‘Make it stop,’ pleads Sarah McInerney as Cormac Ó hEadhra gets a ‘warm tingle deep down’

Drivetime duo lower the volume and quietly mock online ASMR craze

There’s never any shortage of raised voices on Drivetime (RTÉ Radio 1, weekdays), thanks primarily to co-hosts Cormac Ó hEadhra and Sarah McInerney’s knack for generating friction with, and between, guests. On Tuesday, however, the volume is for once turned down, as the presenters venture into more softly spoken territory. Anyone expecting this to herald a more soothing direction is in for a disappointment, however: the sound of breathily whispering Ó hEadhra causes as much agitation as any contretemps, not least for McInerney.

The pair are discussing the online phenomenon of autonomous sensory meridian response, or ASMR as it’s more snappily known. As 2FM presenter Aifric O’Connell explains to them, ASMR is a tingling sensation that can be triggered by certain sounds, with the result that social media platforms such as TikTok are awash with clips of people slurping noodles, rustling paper and murmuring inaudibly into microphones. It soon becomes clear that the hosts aren’t among the 15 per cent of the population who get pleasurable reactions from such noises. “Make it stop,” pleads McInerney as one recording is played.

Ó hEadhra is equally disdainful, but nonetheless makes his own stab at an ASMR whisper, albeit in a west of Ireland accent. “How’s the craic, Aifric?” he utters in hushed tones, to appreciative laughter – from himself – and indulgent sighs from his colleagues. “You’re wasted here,” O’Connell deadpans. But while the appeal of ASMR escapes the broadcasters, they have a jolly time. As Ó hEadhra riffs about getting “a warm tingle deep down” and O’Connell jokes about calling HR, the scampish atmosphere is that of a school assembly where the pupils have spotted their principal’s trousers are unzipped. All great fun, though fully using the possibilities of radio for a deeper dive into abstract sonics of the ASMR world might have been more stimulating: adventurous producers should take note. In the meantime, listeners in search of evocative sounds are left wanting

Otherwise, the strains of arguing voices remain as ubiquitous as ever. On Wednesday, Ó hEadhra predicts a political storm is brewing over proposed EU legislation on nature restoration, before conferring his prophecy with self-fulfilling status by inviting Fine Gael MEP Colm Markey and Green Party TD Mark Ó Cathasaigh to tear strips off each other on the issue. Markey opposes the law, which proposes the “rewetting” of drained farmland, as “not fit for purpose”. “I’m all for biodiversity,” he says, deploying the verbal formulation usually reserved for anyone implacably opposed to an idea, before foregrounding his objections with the inevitable “but”.


Amid all their noisy theatrics, Ó hEadhra and McInerney can also be – whisper it – quietly effective

For his part, Ó Cathasaigh is keen on the legislation, citing the desires of the recent citizen’s assembly on biodiversity, an assertion which hardly swings his argument. Throughout all this, Ó hEadhra seems less interested in the technicalities of restoring peatlands than in the spectacle of Coalition partners duking it out on the airwaves: after all, he knows which is more likely to trigger enjoyment among his audience.

But while the Drivetime duo can allow their knockabout tendencies to trump their analytical instincts, they occasionally remember that they’re hosting a news magazine show and act accordingly. Minister of State for Disability Anne Rabbitte voices her frustration with delays in early assessment of children with special needs, an issue that the presenters have to their credit covered earlier in the show, while Social Democrat leader Holly Cairns is quizzed about her concerns over delays to modifying abortion legislation. Unsurprisingly, neither interview is chock-full of rip-roaring zingers, but they do serve as a reminder that, amid breezy items on niche sports such as “footgolf”, the two presenters also cover relevant topics in comprehensive fashion. Amid all their noisy theatrics, Ó hEadhra and McInerney can also be – whisper it – quietly effective.

On the face of it, there’s nothing low key about Sean Moncrieff (Newstalk, weekdays). The presenter has long been the Irish radio equivalent of Ripley’s Believe it or Not, wooing and wowing his audience with bizarre tales and esoteric items. Sure enough, Monday has Moncrieff tackling the vital subject of defecating while ascending Mount Everest. Interviewing mountaineer Graham Hoyland, the presenter is regaled with anecdotes about actor Brian Blessed accidentally crapping into his hood while attempting the summit: the phrase “cannot be unheard” springs to mind.

It’s an archetypal Moncrieff segment, with the host by turns sounding inquisitive, delighted and perplexed by information that is, for the vast majority of us, fizzily inconsequential. Similarly, there’s a frisson of the frivolous and the transgressive in his conversation on human composting, whereby corpses are broken down into soil. But while it fulfils the show’s brief for the weird and the wonderful, the item also touches on matters of broader relevance. As Moncrieff asks his guest Pablo Metz if medications in the body can decompose safely, he raises wider questions about the environmental impact of more traditional practices like burial and cremation, albeit implicitly.

This ability to approach societal themes from unexpected angles is one of the host’s strongest assets. A discussion with philosopher Steph Rennick on the preponderance of male voices in video games initially seems like the epitome of academic navel-gazing, but ends up dealing with pressing matters such as unconscious bias and media depictions of women in a stimulating but mercifully unpreachy fashion.

It’s not all so pointy-headed. There is practical advice on executing a will, as well as the long-running weekly parenting advice thread. But ultimately it’s the host’s nose for the stimulatingly off-kilter that has ensured his longevity in Newstalk’s afternoon show, not to mention his enduring appeal, attracting record audiences in the latest listenership figures. Talking about the stalled popularity of Amazon’s smart speaker Alexa, his guest Elaine Burke says of big tech firms: “Sometimes they just run out of ideas”. Moncrieff, on the other hand, is still going strong.